Every day, almost all day, I sit in front of a monitor. A monitor connected to a box. Many days, I wish I wouldn’t have to sit in front of this stupid box. In dull moments, I even tend to blame the box for me having to sit in front of it.
I tend to forget that that box is a wonder.
This evening I was reminded of the fact. I’m reading The Power of Myth, more or less a transcript of an interview between comparative mythologist (not to mention autodidact, ethnologist, anthropologist, you-name-it-ist) Joseph Campbell and renowned journalist Bill Moyers. The book itself is amazing: packed with more make-you-reevaluate-your-world-view statements than any book I’ve read in ages. But what reminded me what a remarkable thing this “stupid box” is were a couple offhand comments by Campbell when he stumbled onto the subject of computers. At the time he was around eighty years old, it was the mid-80’s (read: no E-mail, no Internet, no Web) and he had recently bought a personal computer.
CAMPBELL: It’s a miracle, what happens on that screen. Have you ever looked inside one of those things?
MOYERS: No, and I don’t intend to.
CAMPBELL: You can’t believe it. It’s a whole hierarchy of angels–all on slats. And those little tubes–those are miracles.
It’s hard to find anyone more cynical about computers than a web designer. We forget they’re even there, but when we do think about them it’s usually because they just crashed, the network’s out or they’re just not fast enough for our liking.
Joseph Campbell was admittedly far less familiar with computers than I, at a time when most of my daily compter life wasn’t even imagined yet. He always said he was a generalist, but if he had any specialty at all, it was wonder. He was atuned to the wonderful and amazing in every day life, and could connect almost any thing or event, no matter how profane or banal, to some greater meaning. So if he says my “stupid box” is full of angels and miracles, I reckon he’s likely to be right. And who wouldn’t want to work every day on a machine full of angels and miracles?
(If you’re interested, “The Power of Myth” is available in many versions: illustrated hardcover, text-only paperback, audio-cassettes and as 2 DVDs of the television interviews on which the book is based.)